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Subject: Comuni - Abbreviated review & Session Report rss

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Greg Schloesser
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Jefferson City
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Note: My full review of Comuni will be published soon. What follows is an abbreviated version.

Last year’s release from Tenki Games was Chang Cheng, a game I enjoy quite a bit. As such, I was anxious to play their latest offering -- Comuni from Italian designer Acchit Tocca. Due to my fondness for Chang Cheng, I was willing to overlook the tired theme of power struggles in post-medieval Italy. I did enjoy learning that "comuni" is the basic governing structure in Italy, and that there has been a historic competition between these governing bodies.

In Comuni, players represent the heads of government for some of Italy’s major cities, sending forth envoys to secure various projects and construct them in their commune. These buildings provide income, which must be used to continue the development and defend against the inevitable invasions. The player most successful at this task rises to dominance.

Each player begins the game with a pre-determined mix of resources, including gold, armies, pilgrims and craftsmen, all hidden behind a privacy screen. Each of these resources has different functions in the game, and players must attempt to maintain a healthy mix in order to be successful. Sadly, there are no player aids or charts on the board that depict the uses of these resources. Even the inside of the player screens, which would have been a perfect place to depict this information, has been left blank. This forced us to constantly refer to the charts inside the rule book, although this need diminished with subsequent games. Homemade player aid charts are desperately needed.

Each player turn consists of six phases, although in many cases, only the first phase or two are actually performed.

Phase 1 -- Projects. A player may place a bid on one of the project columns, claim projects in a column, or collect income.

a) Place a Bid
. A player may place one of his envoys on a column, the intent being to collect the projects in that column on a future turn. A player may place gold cubes with the envoy in order to make it more difficult for an opponent to displace the envoy. If an opponent’s envoy is already present on the column, the player must place at least one more gold cube in order to displace that envoy. If an envoy is displaced, the player retrieves it and any gold placed with it. Or, he can discard a pilgrim cube and replace the envoy and the gold that was placed with it on a different project column. He may not alter the amount of gold. This saves the player a turn, so having a few pilgrim cubes in supply is quite useful.

b) Claim Projects. A player takes all of the building cards in columns occupied by his envoys, retrieving his envoys and returning any gold with them to the general supply. Some columns also grant a resource of the player’s choice.

c) Collect Income. Players collect resource cubes, which consists of basic income, income from constructed buildings, and income from Guild Masters. A player’s resource income will increase dramatically as more and more buildings are constructed.

Once income is received, each building classification from which income was received becomes inactive. It will not produce income again until a player adds to an existing building or that type, or constructs a new building. Thus, players must constantly be constructing or improving buildings in order to have income available.

Another quibble I have is that the basic income of each player is listed on the front of each player’s screen, meaning a player has to turn his screen around to see which cubes are collected. This should have been printed on the inside of each player’s screen.

Phases 2 and 3 are usually very quick: replacing any project cards taken, and checking to see if an invasion is triggered. An invasion occurs whenever the current deck of project cards is depleted. The current player’s turn is interrupted, and the invasion is faced. More on this later.

Phase 4 -- Construction.
The active player can construct project cards he possesses. There is no construction cost for the first building erected or improved on a turn, but any further buildings or improvements cost one craftsman cube apiece. Victory points equal to the level of building constructed (1 - 4) are earned as each building is constructed or improved.

Each building project card not only is of a specific type, but also has a level value ranging from 1 - 4. When adding a level to a building, the value must be equal to or greater than the level being constructed. A player can add to a project’s value by contributing craftsman cubes. The maximum height of any building is four levels, but a player may have multiple buildings of each type.

A player may also discard one project card to construct a defensive wall. While walls earn no victory points, they are important in protecting one’s city against the inevitable invasions. As with buildings, the maximum height of a wall is four levels, but multiple sections may be constructed.

After a player’s construction phase, he may only possess two un-built project cards. Any excess cards must be discarded. Thus, a player cannot hoard cards for future turns.

Phase 5 -- Claim Guild Masters. A player claims the appropriate Guild Master whenever he has the most valuable buildings of that type. He must have at least a level two building, and can lose control of the Guild Master if an opponent constructs more valuable buildings of that type. Guild Masters earn an extra resource and award three victory points at game’s end.

Phase 6 allows players to play one or three pilgrim cubes to discard one or two plunder tokens. Plunder is suffered during an invasion whenever a player was unsuccessful in defending his city against the rampaging hordes.

Now it’s time to talk about those greedy invaders. When the active project deck is depleted, the invasion occurs. The strength of the invasion steadily increases as the game progresses, beginning with a pitifully weak "four" up to a seemingly formidable "sixteen".

An invasion is basically a 3-step process. First, an adjustment is made to insure that the player with the fewest victory points is only facing the base attack strength of the invasion. So, players with more victory points will face a stronger invasion force, which is justified in the rules by theorizing that these players will have richer cities, making them more attractive for plunder.

The next step is the common defense of Italy. Each player secretly contributes a number of military cubes to this defense, revealing them simultaneously. The strength of the invasion for every players is reduced according to the total number of troops committed. To encourage players to commit to the common defense, the two players contributing the most troops receive heroism counters, which are worth victory points at game’s end.

Finally, each player can allocate troops to defend their city. Troops placed on walls have values ranging from 2 - 5 depending upon the level they occupy. The goal is to allocate enough troops between the common and individual defense to nullify the attack strength of the invaders. If a player is unsuccessful in this task, he receives plunder tokens equal to the difference. Each plunder token is worth -1 victory point at game’s end, but each turn a player has the opportunity to discard these tokens during the course of the game by spending pilgrim cubes.

While the inevitable invasions are a constant threat that must be prepared for, in reality they are not very devastating. In most cases, all players escape unscathed, and at worst only receive a plunder token or two that are easily removed on subsequent turns. For those desiring more formidable invasions, it should be an easy matter to simply increase the strength of each invasion.

The game concludes after the fourth invasion. Additional victory points are earned for Guild Masters and heroism counters, and subtracted for plunder tokens. In addition, players compare their holdings of resource cubes, with two points being awarded to the players holding the most in each type. Finally, players earn victory points equal to the value of their lowest building. The player with the most overall victory points is victorious.

I must admit that my first impression of Comuni was not very favorable. I found the game to be a cornucopia of various mechanisms that didn’t seem to fit together very well. I also found that many turns -- especially in the early part of the game -- seemed very simple and without any angst or tough decisions. While I still feel this latter criticism is valid, my opinion of the game has improved with subsequent playing. I’ve come to better understand how these different mechanisms mesh, and have begun to appreciate the challenges of acquiring and constructing desired buildings and balancing the need for a constant income of resources with the desire to claim new projects.

There are some tough decisions at various points throughout the game, and they do grow more frequent as the game nears an end, but these aren’t consistently present. Still, there is enough going on that warrants careful attention and keeps matters interesting and challenging. The method of acquiring projects can be tense, and is reminiscent of Reiner Knizia’s Amun-Re. Deciding whether to take cards quickly, or place another envoy in hopes of acquiring even more cards can sometimes be tough. By acquiring the proper project cards and resources, victory points can be earned quickly, creating an ever-changing leader board. There doesn’t appear to be a "rich-get-richer" problem.

Comuni
is definitely a game worthy of more than just one look. For me, it improved with experience, and I have come to appreciate the various mechanisms. While the game is good, for me, it doesn’t elevate to greater heights and accolades. I’m not sure why, but it feels less polished than games that leave me clamoring for more. It will likely stick around for awhile longer so I can explore it a bit more. Perhaps my appreciation and fondness for the game will continue to grow. Certainly, it is a solid design, but I just don’t know if it is destined for greater praise.

Nathan struck out to a large lead, which actually proved to be detrimental as the greedy invaders wreaked havoc on his city during the second invasion. This allowed Ryan, Asher and I to surpass him on the victory point track, but there was no clear-cut leader. In the end, Asher overcame six plunder points by grabbing two Guild Masters and ten points worth of heroism counters to claim a narrow victory.

Finals: Asher 43, Greg 41, Ryan 40, Nathan 24

Ratings: Greg 7 (5.5 after my first playing), Asher 6, Ryan 5, Nathan 5
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Albert Hernandez
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Nice review. I'd like to mention that there are now a few player aids available here on BGG, including one that sticks to the back of the screen, as you suggested.

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